Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LIX

Near Our Shores

“This is how it is,” said Captain Tugwell, that same day, to Erle Twemlow: “the folk they goes on with a thing, till a man as has any head left twists it round on his neck, with his chin looking down his starn-post. Then the enemy cometh, with his spy-glass and his guns, and afore he can look round, he hath nothing left to look for.”

“Then you think, Tugwell, that the danger is not over? — that the French mean business even now, when every one is tired of hearing of it? I have been away so long that I know nothing. But the universal opinion is —”

“Opinion of the universe be dashed!” Master Zebedee answered, with a puff of smoke. “We calls ourselves the universe, when we be the rope that drags astarn of it. Cappen, to my mind there is mischief in the wind, more than there hath been for these three years; and that’s why you see me here, instead of going with the smacks. Holy Scripture saith a dream cometh from the Lord; leastways, to a man of sense, as hardly ever dreameth. The wind was so bad again us, Monday afternoon, that we put off sailing till the Tuesday, and Monday night I lay on my own bed, without a thought of nothing but to sleep till five o’clock. I hadn’t taken nothing but a quart of John Prater’s ale — and you know what his measures is — not a single sip of grog; but the Hangel of the Lord he come and stand by me in the middle of the night. And he took me by the hand, or if he didn’t it come to the same thing of my getting there, and he set me up in a dark high place, the like of the yew-tree near Carne Castle. And then he saith, ‘Look back, Zeb’; and I looked, and behold Springhaven was all afire, like the bottomless pit, or the thunder-storm of Egypt, or the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And two figures was jumping about in the flames, like the furnace in the plain of Dura, and one of them was young Squire Carne, and the other was my son Daniel, as behaveth below his name. And I called out, ‘Daniel, thou son of Zebedee and Kezia Tugwell, come forth from the burning fiery furnace’; but he answered not, neither heeded me. And then Squire Darling, Sir Charles is now the name of him, out he come from his Round-house, and by the white gate above high-water mark, to order out the fire, because they was all his own cottages. But while he was going about, as he doth for fear of being hard upon any one, out jumps Squire Carne, from the thickest of the blazes, and takes the poor Squire by the forepart of his neck, which he liketh to keep open when he getteth off of duty, and away with him into the burning fiery furnace made of his own houses! That was more than I could put up with, even under the Hangel, and I give such a kick that Kezia, though she saith she is the most quietest of women, felt herself a forced to bounce me up.”

“A dream of that sort deserves notice,” answered Erle, who had passed many months among sailors; “and over and above that, I see proofs of a foolish security in England, and of sharp activity in France. Last Monday I was only five miles from Boulogne, on board of our frigate the Melpomene, for I wanted the captain’s evidence to help me in my own affairs; and upon my word I was quite amazed at the massing of the French forces there, and the evident readiness of their hundreds of troop-ships. Scores of them even had horses on board, for I saw them quite clearly with a spy-glass. But the officers only laughed at me, and said they were tired of seeing that. And another thing I don’t like at all is the landing of a French boat this side of Pebbleridge. I was coming home after dark one night, and as soon as they saw me they pushed off, and pretended to be English fishermen; but if ever I saw Frenchmen, these were French; and I believe they had a ship not far away, for I saw a light shown and then turned off. I examined the place in the morning, and saw the footprints of men on a path up the cliff, as if they had gone inland towards Carne Castle. When the Admiral came home, I told him of it; but he seemed to think it was only some smuggling.”

“Ah, there’s smooglin’ of a bad kind over there, to my belief. I wouldn’t tell your honour not a quarter what I thinks, because of the young gentleman being near akin to you. But a thing or two have come to my ears, very much again a young squire over that way. A man as will do what he have done is a black one in some ways; and if some, why not in all?”

“Tell me what you mean,” said Twemlow, sternly. “After saying so much, you are bound to say more. Caryl Carne is no friend of mine, although he is my cousin. I dislike the man, though I know but little of him.”

“For sartin then a kind gentleman like you won’t like him none the better for betraying of a nice young maid as put her trust in him, as lively and pretty a young maid as ever stepped, and might have had the pick of all the young men in the parish.”

“What!” exclaimed Erle, with a sudden chill of heart, for Faith had not concealed from him her anxiety about Dolly. “Tugwell, do you mean to say —”

“Yes, sir; only you must keep it to yourself, for the sake of the poor young thing; though too many knows it already, I’m afeared. And that was how poor Jem Cheeseman changed from a dapper money-turning man, as pleasant as could be, to a down-hearted, stick-in doors, honest-weighted fellow. Poor little Polly was as simple as a dove, and her meant to break none of the Lord’s commandments, unless it was a sin to look so much above her. He took her aboard her father’s trading-craft, and made pretence to marry her across the water, her knowing nothing of the lingo, to be sure; and then when there come a thumping boy, and her demanded for the sake of the young ’un that her marriage should be sartified in the face of all the world, what does he do but turn round and ask her if she was fool enough to suppose that a Carne had married a butter-man’s daughter? With a few words more, she went off of her head, and have never been right again, they say; and her father, who was mighty proud to have a grandson heir to an old ancient castle, he was so took aback with this disappointment that he puzzled all the village, including of me, as I am free to own, by jumping into his own rope. ’Twas only now just that I heard all this; and as the captain of this here place, I shall ask leave of Cheeseman to have it out with Master Carne, as soon as may be done without hurting the poor thing. If she had been my child, the rope should have gone round his neck first, if it come to mine there-arter!”

“The ——— villain!” Twemlow used a strong short word, without adding heavily, it may be hoped, to the score against him. “And to think that all this time he has been daring to address himself — But never mind that now. It will be a bad time for him when I catch him by himself, though I must not speak of Polly. Poor little Polly! what a pretty child she was! I used to carry sugar-plums on purpose for her. Good-bye, Tugwell; I must think about all this.”

“And so must I, sir. What a strapping chap ‘a be!” Captain Zebedee continued to himself, as Twemlow strode away with the light step of a mountain savage, carrying a long staff from force of habit, and looking even larger than himself from the flow of chestnut hair and beard around him. “Never did see such a hairy chap. Never showed no signs of it when ‘a was a lad, and Miss ‘Liza quite smooth in the front of her neck. Must come of Hottentot climate, I reckon. They calls it the bush, from the folk been so bushy. I used to think as my beard was a pretty good example; but, Lord bless me and keep me, it would all go on his nose! If ‘a spreadeth that over the face of Squire Carne, ‘a will ravish him, as the wicked doth ravish the poor.”

Twemlow had many sad things to consider, and among them the impending loss of this grand mane. After divers delays, and infinitude of forms, and much evidence of things self-evident — in the spirit which drove Sir Horatio Nelson to pin a certificate of amputation to the sleeve of his lost arm — this Twemlow had established that he was the Twemlow left behind upon the coast of Africa, and having been captured in the service of his country, was entitled at least to restoration. In such a case small liberality was shown in those days, even as now prevaileth, the object of all in authority being to be hard upon those who are out of it. At last, when he was becoming well weary, and nothing but an Englishman’s love of his country and desire to help in her dangers prevented him from turning to private pursuits — wherein he held a key to fortune — he found himself restored to his rank in the Army, and appointed to another regiment, which happened to be short of officers. Then he flung to the winds, until peace should return, his prospect of wealth beyond reckoning, and locked in a black leather trunk materials worth their weight in diamonds. But, as life is uncertain, he told his beloved one the secret of his great discovery, which she, in sweet ignorance of mankind, regarded as of no importance.

But as wars appear and disappear, nations wax and wane, and the holiest principles of one age become the scoff of the next, yet human nature is the same throughout, it would be wrong to cast no glance — even with the French so near our shores — at the remarkable discovery of this young man, and the circumstances leading up to it. For with keen insight into civilized thought, which yearns with the deepest remorse for those blessings which itself has banished, he knew that he held a master-key to the treasuries of Croesus, Mycerinus, Attalus, and every other King who has dazzled the world with his talents. The man who can minister to human needs may, when he is lucky, earn a little towards his own; the man who contributes to the pleasure of his fellows must find reward in his own; but he who can gratify the vanity of his race is the master of their pockets.

Twemlow had been carried from the deadly coast (as before related by Captain Southcombe) to the mountainous district far inland, by the great King Golo of the Quackwas nation, mighty warriors of lofty stature. Here he was treated well, and soon learned enough of their simple language to understand and be understood; while the King, who considered all white men as of canine origin, was pleased with him, and prepared to make him useful. Then Twemlow was sent, with an escort of chiefs, to the land of the Houlas, as a medicine-man, to win Queen Mabonga for the great King Golo. But she — so strange is the perversity of women — beholding this man of a pearly tint, as fair as the moon, and as soft as a river — for he took many months to get properly tanned — with one long gaze of amazement yielded to him what he sought for another. A dwarf and a whipster he might be among the great darkies around her — for he had only six feet and one inch of stature, and forty-two inches round the chest — but, to her fine taste, tone and quality more than covered defect of quantity. The sight of male members of her race had never moved her, because she had heard of their wickedness; but the gaze of this white man, so tender and so innocent, set her on a long course of wondering about herself. Then she drew back, and passed into the private hut behind, where no one was allowed to disturb her. For she never had felt like this before, and she wanted nobody to notice it.

But the Houla maidens, with the deepest interest in matters that came home to them outside their understanding, held council with their mothers, and these imparted to the angelic stranger, as plainly as modesty permitted, the distressing results of his whiteness, and implored him to depart, before further harm was done. Twemlow perceived that he had tumbled into a difficult position, and the only way out of it was to make off. Giving pledges to return in two moons at the latest, he made his salaam to the sensitive young Queen, whose dignity was only surpassed by her grace, and expecting to be shortened by the head, returned with all speed to the great King Golo. Honesty is the best policy — as we all know so well that we forbear to prove it — and the Englishman saw that the tale would be darker from the lips of his black attendants. The negro monarch was of much-enduring mind, but these tidings outwent his philosophy. He ordered Twemlow’s head to come off by dinner-time, and, alas, that royal household kept very early hours; and the poor captain, corded to a tree, sniffed sadly the growth of good roast, which he never should taste, and could only succeed in succession of fare. For although that enlightened King had discarded the taste of the nations around him, it was not half so certain as the prisoner could have wished that his prejudice would resist the relish of a candid rival in prime condition.

While Twemlow was dwelling upon this nice question, and sympathising deeply with the animal on the spit, Tuloo, the head councillor of the realm, appeared, an ancient negro full of wisdom and resource. Discovering that the white man set more value on his head than is usual with these philosophers, he proposed conditions which were eagerly accepted, and releasing the captive, led him into his own hut. Here the man of wisdom spat three times into his very ample bosom, to exorcise evil spells, and took from a hole in the corner something which he handled very carefully, and with a touch as light as possible. Following everything with his best eyes, Twemlow perceived in the hand of Tuloo a spongy-looking substance of conical form, and in colour and size very like a morel, but possessing a peculiar golden glow. “Kneel here, my son, and move not until I tell you,” the old man whispered, and was obeyed. Then he stripped off all covering from the white neck and shoulders, and beginning immediately below the eyes, brushed all the cheeks and the chin, throat and neck and upper part of the bosom, with the substance in his hand, from which a yellow powder passed, moist rather than dusty, into the open pores. “In one moon you will be a beast of the woods, and in two you shall return to the Queen that loves you,” said Councillor Tuloo, with a sly little grin.

But Twemlow was robbed of no self-respect by the growth of a forest about him; and when he was sent again to Queen Mabonga, and the dewy glance of love died at the very first wink into a stony glare — because of his face being covered with hair — he said to himself that he knew where he could inflict a very different impression upon ladies. For these cannot have too much hair in England, at the back of their own heads, and front of their admirers’.

Councillor Tuloo was gifted with a deep understanding of a thing which looks shallow to a man who has never yet heard of false bottoms. He said to King Golo: “I know what women are. As long as she never had thought about men, you might crawl, and be only a hog to her. But her eyes have been opened to this white man, and there is room for a black one to go into them. And unless you are at hand, it will be done by some one else.”

In short, all was managed so beautifully that in six more moons the coy Mabonga split the Durra straw with King Golo, amid vast rejoicings and in din almost equal to that which a wedding in Wales arouses. But from time to time it was considered needful to keep up her Majesty’s repulsion by serving Erle Twemlow with another dose of that which would have created for the English fair capillary attraction. Thus he became a great favourite with the King, who listened with deep interest to his descriptions of the houseful of beads and buttons to be earned in England by a little proper management of Tuloo’s magic dust. Before very long it was arranged that as soon as a good supply of Pong could be collected, Twemlow should be sent back to the coast and placed under the charge of Bandeliah, who was now a tributary of this great King. And here he might have waited years and years — for the trading station was abandoned now — but for the benevolence of Captain Southcombe, who, being driven to the eastward of his course upon one of his returns from India, stood in a little further to enquire about his friend, and with no small pleasure conveyed him home.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31